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Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Braids All Undone

She couldn't get the incessant noise out of her ears… the sound of metal crumpling and glass shattering… and she still felt dizzy as if the car had yet to stop flipping over. A policeman sat outside her door not allowing anyone to enter the room save her mother and her father… and her attorney. Why did she need an attorney? The question bothered her more than it should have.
"Why don't you go and pick her up?" Leslie asked her mother. "I don't want to go out tonight."
"If I hadn't drunk so much, I would," mom replied. "If I get another DUI they'll lock me up for thirty days this time… please… just go and pick up your sister for me… the house is only five miles away. If you don't pick her up, I'm afraid she'll end up riding with someone who shouldn't be driving."
"I've been drinking too… what if I get stopped?"
"Oh… you've only had a couple glasses of wine… and besides, if you're careful you won't get stopped. Now go… before your sister decides to ride home with some drunk."
The silence of secret snow greeted Leslie as she made her way to the car. Just fucking great… the roads would be treacherous now in the middle of the night… the plows never started until six in the morning. She despised mom for drinking so much… she hated herself for having to move back home with her after the divorce. If only Benny Parker had been a real man instead of a spoiled child they might have made something of their marriage. Instead, when he turned twenty one he decided to pick up a flask and he never set it down again.
Amy never should have been allowed to attend the party in the first place. Mom knew there would be a keg there and hard liquor as well… every party Amy attended featured booze and she had only just turned seventeen.
"She's too young to be drinking," Leslie argued after Amy left for the evening. "You know, you could be arrested for allowing her and her friends to drink here."
"I'd rather have your sister drink here than run around hiding it from me," mom replied as she hoisted another martini to her lips sipping it loudly, knowing full well how that sound irritated Leslie to no end. "Besides, I started drinking at her age and it never hurt me any."
You're a fucking drunk mother… a no-account boozer who hasn't held a job in ten years. But of course Leslie never spoke those kinds of words. When she had been a little girl Leslie remembered mom putting her hair in braids… her fingers nimbly quick at gathering and separating the strands before weaving then together in beautiful braids. With her hair done up in plaits Leslie felt safe, as if nothing in the world could harm her. Now, mom's hands trembled so she couldn't do up the buttons on her own blouse, at least not until she had a few drinks.
The car fish-tailed each time Leslie turned a corner. The tires were shot. She meant to get them replaced before winter set in but the kids needed new clothes for school and boots and coats when the cold came early and Benny had been jailed for non-payment of child support… as if that helped matters… and her paycheck evaporated each Friday before she had time to consider things like tires.
When she reached the party house Amy came running out to the car followed by a group of other kids she didn't know and who all began piling into the doors before she could object.
"Thanks for coming to get me, sis," Amy said, slurring her speech. "These people need rides too… I didn't think you'd mind. They all live near us."
And if I did mind, would you tell them all to get the fuck out of the car? Leslie yearned to have enough hair on her cunt to tell her sister to grow up… to quit running around with kids who were nothing but losers. Instead she silently seethed as she backed out the driveway to head for home.
"You're going the wrong way," a boy spoke up… the one riding bitch. "I live back that way." He grabbed the steering wheel causing the car to veer into a curb laughing hysterically.
"Amy! Tell this guy to either behave or I'm stopping right now and making him get out," Leslie called to her sister who rode in the back seat. When Amy didn't answer Leslie took a quick glance back to see she had passed out. "Great… just great. Okay… tell me where you live and I'll drop you off first."
"I live on Brockway… on the dead end. You have to hurry… I'm supposed to be home by now. My dad is going to be pissed."
"The roads are too bad," Leslie told him. "I'm going as fast as I can…"
She wondered why boys had to be so impatient… so impotent… like the men they would inevitably become… like her father, who had left them for a barfly he met in a tavern where he banged the drums as part of a rock band that got lost somewhere on the road to fame and ended up marooned in Pittsburgh, of all places.
"Why can't we go back home?" she had wondered to her mother the day dad left. "I want to go home."
"We are home," mom told her. "Get used to it, sweetie. This is as good as it gets."
And mom turned out to be right. When Leslie met Benny and spread her legs for him on their first date after he told her how much he loved her and how he would be the man of her dreams she thought of Pittsburgh as being not so bad after all… not if boys like Benny lived here. And when their first daughter was born and Benny picked the baby up in his arms gently cradling her Leslie believed in love for the first time in her life.
When he started in with the drinking, though, all that changed. Benny turned into a mean drunk before her eyes, cursing Leslie for any perceived slight no matter how insignificant. Twice he had backhanded her knocking her to the floor before swearing how sorry he felt and promising never to drink again. Once the promise lasted nearly a week but then he lost his job and having him around all day long drunk and abusive proved too much for her. She packed up the girls one afternoon while he dozed in a drunken stupor and moved back in with mom.
"We need to take your picture, miss," a woman in a police uniform and holding a camera in her hands told her. "Please sit up… we can take it with you lying in bed… no need to stand."
"Why do you need my picture?"
"Mug shot… any time someone is arrested we take mug shots. Okay… look at the camera please… good. Now, turn to the side… that's it. Okay… now I need to take your fingerprints." The woman put her camera into a bag she carried and pulled out what looked like a cigar box.
"I'm under arrest? Is that why the policeman is sitting outside my door?"
"Yes, ma'am… now, let me have your right hand please… just let it go limp… I'll do everything." The woman put Leslie's index finger onto an ink blotter and then rolled it onto a piece of white cardboard, repeating the process until she had ten prints.
"What am I under arrest for?"
"I'm sure your attorney can fill you in on that… I really don't know. I'm just here to take your mug shot and finger prints. Thank you for being so cooperative."
"You're welcome," Leslie murmured without thinking. Her mind tried to reconstruct what had happened for her to end up here, in a hospital bed and under arrest. She wondered if they would take her to jail once she regained her strength.
There had been an accident… that's the last thing she could remember. That kid… Amy's friend… that obnoxious little asshole… he'd grabbed the wheel and the tree came closer and closer no matter how she tried to steer away from it… when they went into the ditch running alongside the road the car flipped before hitting the tree broadside… in the back door where Amy lay passed out… Amy.
"Nurse, has my mother been in to see me?" The woman had entered the room carrying a tray of food… breakfast? Or lunch? Leslie didn't know. "I mean… I thought she might be here."
"I believe your mother stopped in earlier… you know your sister is in intensive care on the sixth floor… she may be there with her."
"Intensive care? Why is Amy there?"
"I'm sorry… I probably shouldn't have told you that… I thought you knew. Please, let me have a doctor come in and talk with you."
Blood. There had been blood everywhere. And bodies.
"This one is the driver," someone said, a man in a blue uniform standing over her shining a flashlight in her face. "She looks a bit banged up but she's conscious… and she's been drinking… let's get the breathalyzer before the paramedics get back."
"This one's not breathing either… that makes four dead." The voice came from somewhere outside the car… from somewhere in the dark and the cold… she had hung onto the steering wheel hard enough that it snapped but it kept her from being ejected. "Let's get her out… the ambulance is here."
She remembered feeling hands hoisting her from the car with an excruciating pain shooting down her leg. She must have passed out.
"You're being charged with aggravated drunk driving and vehicular homicide, Ms. Parker," the woman said when she walked into the room after knocking and peeking through the door. She looked to be just out of law school and she wore what looked like a man's suit and she carried a brief case from which she pulled a sheath of paperwork, handing it to Leslie. "I've been assigned by the court to represent you."
"But I didn't do anything…"
"You were driving a car with a blood alcohol level of .09. In this state, anything over .08 is legally drunk. Your car crashed into a tree at a high rate of speed killing four people… all under the age of eighteen… and critically injuring two others, including your own sister."
"But I didn't do anything…"
"So you're saying you weren't driving the car?"
"No… I… my mother… made me go. I didn't want to."
Leslie remembered how the time had gone by so slowly when she'd been pregnant with the kids but the time for her trial to start seemed to rush upon her like a fast moving storm. Guilty, the jury agreed, with the judge nodding at the bailiff who put handcuffs around her wrists and led her away.
"But I didn't do anything," she kept trying to explain to anyone who would listen. It had to be some kind of mistake. Fifteen years? Is that what the judge had said?
"But I didn't do anything…"

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